Meditation is a well-known practice that has many defining characteristics in modern day culture. Sitting cross-legged, chanting mantras, eliminating thought — these are all common preconceived notions of what meditation entails. However, meditation has much more depth and flexibility than this image gives it credit for. By practicing meditation, we can train our minds to develop deeper understanding and acceptance of our lives, actions and individual selves. With a variety of methods, postures and areas of focus, meditation is a practice that all people can benefit from.

Understanding Meditation

One of the first mistakes that people make when attempting to try or understand meditation comes from the concept that one must prevent and push away all thought while meditating. Especially for those that are very busy or stressed, just the thought of not thinking is enough to send the brain into overdrive. However, contrary to popular belief, meditation is less about ignoring or dismissing your thoughts and more about observing them, accepting them and letting them go. Meditation is a method of focusing and calming the mind while also becoming more accepting and understanding of oneself; it’s not a method of emptying the head of all thoughts without attempting to resolve it. When there is a conflict between two people, we usually encouraged them to discuss the problem openly instead of keeping it to themselves, which can cause tension, frustration, resentment or guilt to build; this concept also applies to the individual self. Pushing thoughts, concerns or worries out of your mind without resolving them internally will make them an even larger cause of stress down the road. During meditation, one should instead attempt to relax and clear the mind by focusing on achieving one specific goal; this goal can be broad or focused, such as forgiveness, stress relief, improved self-esteem, deeper understanding of spirituality, or simply physical and mental relaxation. By focusing on this goal and steering all thoughts toward it, we are able to free our minds of worry and allow room for emotional, mental and spiritual growth.

Practicing Meditation

Contrary to the common image of meditation described above, meditation practice can take place almost anywhere: outdoors, during lunch breaks, laying down, standing up, or even when washing the dishes, out for a walk or doing yoga. The only requirement is an environment that is both comfortable and free of distraction; no phones, loud music, pets, or uncomfortable clothing should be present or in use, as they will divert attention from the focus of the session. The use of poses (asanas), hand gestures (mudras) and chants (mantras) is encouraged for reaching a deeper state of consciousness, but there is no such thing as a correct posture for meditation; everyone has varying physical and mental responses to different methods and practices, and comfort is the most important factor when trying to clear and focus the mind.

Especially for beginner meditators, clearing the mind can be very difficult; thoughts often immediately begin to fill the mind when meditating, particularly ones that are providing the most concern, anger or excitement. But instead of pushing them away, every approaching thought should be allowed to make an entrance; once a thought has surfaced, it should be individually observed with an open and understanding mind before it’s released and let go — letting go can often be difficult, but if you focus on the goal that you are trying to achieve and the reasons you wish to achieve it, over time you will be able to redirect your thoughts back to the goal immediately and with ease. Once you understand the simple truth that, regardless of the issue, letting your mind worry or stress over something is unnecessary and fruitless, you’ll be able to accept that your focus goal is more important; after this, letting go of these concerns will come more easily. Additionally, once a thought is no longer a cause of stress and your mind can observe it clearly, you will be better equipped to address the issue. Clearing your mind while simultaneously focusing on one specific goal may seem contradictory, but with regular practice the need to purposely drive thoughts toward the goal will diminish. Even after the meditation sessions end, this will gradually become the natural response to negative thoughts and emotions.

Benefits of Meditation

While many concerns and worries are warranted, allowing these thoughts to preoccupy your mind will typically have little to no positive effects; it can, however, lead to anxiety, depression, confusion and even high blood pressure and other health issues. But when it comes to all around mental and physical well-being, meditation is the best medication; by addressing unnecessary or intrusive thoughts using meditation, breathing exercises (pranayama) and mantras, all of the negative effects of constant stress can be prevented and reversed. Research even suggests that daily meditation can activate metabolic energy, mitochondrial function and telomere maintenance; in layman’s terms, it can support and maintain healthy weight, increase energy levels and even fight or prevent cancer. These results begin to occur almost immediately, and become more pronounced and effective as practice continues.

In addition to increased energy, decreased stress levels and health support, meditation is also beneficial in attaining mental tranquility, self-awareness and acceptance, spiritual meaning and pain relief. As meditation is practiced more frequently and a deeper relationship with the inner self is established, it can also be used as a means of understanding and unlocking emotional and creative expression. By becoming more accepting of oneself and letting go of constant worries or concerns, life becomes more peaceful; because thoughts about the past, present and future are released during meditation, feelings of longing, suffering and anger are quieted in everyday life.